The conservative movement and varied wings of the Republican party have always had their troubles with the trending and ultimate nominee—usually right up until the nomination. This year is different. Many conservative intellectuals and party regulars are still throwing their brickbats at him. And yet, the problems and complaints about the nominee seem much the same as in previous years, if not even less significant.
Six years before he ran for president, Mitt Romney ran for Governor of Massachusetts as a pro-choice, pro gay-rights Republican. Four years after his first run at the presidency he was the nominee. And unity in the movement and party was had. When Rudy Giuliani ran for president, many conservatives supported him, despite his also being pro-choice, pro-gay rights, an endorser of Mario Cuomo, and a man with not a few personal “family values” issues. Ultimately, he became a go-to conservative and a hero of the movement.
Perhaps the movement and party that supported Romney and Giuliani at various times thought: “Conservative enough.” Or, perhaps they thought: “Better than the alternative.” Or, perhaps they knew what is no longer taught in Poli Sci 101 but has always been true: Republican presidents empty think tanks and staff themselves to their right; Democratic presidents empty think tanks and staff themselves to their left. As we all learned a long time ago, “personnel is policy.”
Somehow, today, those rules of general understanding and practice no longer abide for too many in the movement.
We don’t hear much about abortion politics from Republican candidates anymore, and the gay rights fights are practically over. But it is worth remembering how much of a litmus test those issues were in adjudging conservatism in almost every election of the past forty years.
Concerns over the conservative credentials of the likes of Giuliani and Romney, while ultimately buried and suppressed in favor of the larger cause—the country and the world—existed for other candidates, too. It’s a distant memory now, but there was a lot of conservative-movement doubt about George W. Bush—his attack on Robert Bork, Robert Bork’s response, the whole notion of “compassionate conservatism,” and more. Some may even remember Nancy Reagan’s 1992 comment “Kinder than who?” after George H.W. Bush spoke of wanting a “kinder, gentler” nation.
End of day, whatever the reasons, the movement and party united—perhaps wrapping itself around the old formulation of William F. Buckley’s, “He’s conservative, but he’s not a conservative.” And as between conservative nominees and liberal ones: good enough.
Now comes Donald Trump. He rips through 16 other potential nominees of every stripe—from liberal to conservative. Yes, his record on conservative policies is mixed. But it is mixed, not one-sided, and includes his public defense of Dan Quayle in 1988. And today, whatever one thinks of his past, what conservative would not want the likes of Steve Moore, Larry Kudlow, and Art Laffer heading his economic team? What conservative would denigrate the advice and list of judicial appointments crafted by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society?
So, the regnant case against Donald Trump for many intellectual conservatives boils down to either not a conservative enough record or bad temperament based on verbal toxins thrown too personally. One almost wants to channel Barry Goldwater’s 1960 statement right now: “Let’s grow up, conservatives!” Still, we are told—win or lose—Trump has ruined or will ruin the movement and the party. Other times we are told, in the service of minimizing such ruination, we can handle four years of Hillary Clinton.
Now, Bill Bennett is in the crosshairs of the NeverTrump conservatives for this dialogue on Fox News with Martha MacCallum. MacCallum asked if Trump could turn around the polls. Among other things, Bennett said:
Maybe people will also come to the realization that a guy who says some things awkwardly, indecorously, infelicitously is not as big a problem as someone who’s going to hurt the country permanently.
Asked about who Donald Trump needs to “pull over,” Bennett said:
He does not need to speak to the Never Trumpers, some of my friends or maybe former friends who suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interests of the country. But he can speak to the middle and he can speak to the problems, as he spoke in Milwaukee, and he can speak, as he does, to some audiences, particularly, Martha, a lot of that Milwaukee address was to black America and I think that’s something he should do again. I think he can get 15, 20 percent of that vote.
Then the knives came out. Charles Murray wrote on Twitter: “Because we are morally superior, perhaps.” I guess that proved Bennett’s point. Others expressed different kinds of shock—listing titles and quotes from Bennett’s many books, as if doing so amounted to an argument.
Others merely wrote, “Bennett is wrong,” or took to the various Internet pages of conservative magazines to justify themselves and their points of view to proclaim that Bennett had sold out. It’s a rather long listing, too long to provide all of the hyperlinks here.
The MacCallum dialogue was drenched in Shakespearean references. Here’s one more for the Bennett detractors, mutatis mutandis: “The lady doth protest too much.”
Bennett’s new detractors left out a few book titles in their recitation of his previous work and they were telling omissions. NeverTrumpers confident of a turn in Bennett would profit from reacquainting themselves with the content of Counting By Race, Our Children and Our Country, Body Count, The Educated Child, America: The Last Best Hope, and The Fight of our Lives. If they put all of these titles together with the ones from which they selectively culled the material for their tweets, Bill Bennett’s former fans would note a unifying and obvious uber-tide in his work: a determination to reverse a culture of political correctness aimed at diminishing American and Western intellectual traditions.
Did those who were so offended by the suggestion that their sense of moral superiority explains their resistance to the GOP nominee actually read or hear the entirety of Bennett’s words, including his last line? Did they give any thought to the possibility that they might be putting their personal preferences “above the interests of the country”?
Try it this way: Throughout much of the 1990s, Bill Bennett was campaigning against rap lyrics and entertainment that applauded and encouraged rape and cop killing. Today, we have a grassroots movement invigorated by too many of those encouragements, and one candidate gives it her support. Meanwhile, one candidate stands strongly against it and with the cops. Drug legalization? One candidate’s party made plain its ambition to fight for it by putting it in the party platform. Meanwhile, the other candidate’s party did not. Death of Outrage? One candidate was part and parcel of the whole thesis of that book and would bring her husband (the lead character of that book) back into the White House. One candidate would send the protagonists into permanent political retirement.
For more than a decade, the conservative movement has been asking for more talk of American exceptionalism. One candidate centered his whole campaign around it, the other surrounds herself with the likes of Huma Abedin and a coterie of transnational progressives. Now think about personnel as policy. Better education outcomes? Who is in the pocket of the unions and who knows all-too-well how much the unions stand in the way of excellence? A quick look at what the union bosses have to say about Donald Trump should easily dispatch that question.
Yes, it is actually pretty easy to see the interests of this country are ill-served by not only Hillary Clinton and her record, but by the kinds of people she brings with her. These are the people who will staff her White House. Then, of course, there is her husband and all that he represents.
It is actually pretty easy to see that “indecorous and infelicitous” language should be just about the last concerns we all have when it comes to saving our country. Every current or former member of any military branch, or reader of military history, learned that lesson long ago.
And it is not novel to point out that too many conservatives now have a vested interest in proving they were right in saying Donald Trump cannot win. You will never read a word from any of them about the things Trump has done right, not even his ongoing outreach to the minority community—something else movement conservatives and party regulars have begged their candidates to do for at least a generation but have proven incapable of doing effectively themselves.
We all know many a Republican who voted for Barack Obama. One is even running for the vice-presidency on the Libertarian ticket. Do we also remember what just one year of his presidency meant? Here are some notes to jog our memories: Sonia Sotomayor. The crushing of the dissident movement in Iran (now, we learn, in the service of a nuclear deal with Iran). The beginning of the New START treaty, appeasing Russia. The dismantling of missile defense in Europe, also appeasing Russia. The template of a priori attacks on police. The initialization of ObamaCare.
That’s a pretty rough single year, never mind what “fundamental transformation” he was able to effect in a full first term. Not one of these actions has received anything but praise from Hillary Clinton; and one can expect her to double-down on every one of them should she be elected.
Most conservatives, Republican political operatives, and voters disdain the notion of voting for the person and not the party. There is, after all, a country to save. Most conservatives and Republican party regulars care about Radical Islam and want a candidate to talk about it because he means to do something about it. There is, after all, a country to save. Most conservatives and Republicans disdain the kind of cultural and legal corruption the Clintons perpetrated during their time in the White House and since. There is, after all, a country to save. And most Americans understand the cultural thread that runs directly from cop killing encouragements in music and entertainment to kowtowing to racialist hucksters to the antagonism toward police and the hyper racial debate about safety and policing today. There is, after all, a country to save.
Want to know about Radical Islam and its threat? Read The Fight of our Lives. Want to know about how the Clintons use power and how it corrupts the country? Read The Death of Outrage. Want to know about the surrender to racialism, political correctness, and the misunderstandings of equality and civil rights that have led to the destructions of urban areas and the rise of racial and ethnic grievance societies? Read Body Count and Counting by Race. Want to learn about how to achieve positive education outcomes, resurrecting Western ideals and how political correctness, multiculturalism, and other bad ideas have been those stumbling blocks? Read The Educated Child and Our Children and Our Country.
What is the theme inherent in all the foregoing? In a word: country. And what is saving or loving the country about by any normal definition? Patriotism.
These are themes we get some kind of vote on in November and they are the same themes Bill Bennett has spent his life writing and caring about. These are many of the same issues conservatives and Republicans have long cared about as well.
In the end, I’m not sure if Donald Trump represents governance by the first two thousand names of a telephone book, as William F. Buckley, Jr. once said he’d rather be governed by. I’m not sure if Donald Trump is just conservative rather than a conservative. But I am certain that given the stakes and issues we all care about, and have talked about for years, the last thing this election should be about is saving a party or a movement.
It’s about saving our country. Most call that patriotism. So, yes: Let’s grow up, Conservatives.